Long before its current season is over, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival announces its lineup for the following season, and theater lovers wait in happy expectation for the finished product.
While the show choices and the shows themselves seem to hit the stage almost magically, choosing the plays takes many months, sometimes years, to get from the idea phase to actual production.
In the Angus Bowmer Theatre:
In the Thomas Theatre:
In the Allen Elizabethan Theatre:
Lue Morgan Douthit, OSF's director of literary development and dramaturgy, has been involved in 20 seasons of productions at OSF. She says the process of selecting shows is rich, varied and never dull.
"Ideas for plays each season come in so many different ways. We have 65 people representing every department on the OSF campus and we all have ideas. It can get crazy, but it's a lot of fun," she says. "We are always shaping seasons according to variety, and variety comes in many different ways."
The festival has grown since 1935 from a three-day event featuring two plays to a Tony Award-winning, regional theater company with an eight-month season of 11 plays featuring Shakespeare's work, musicals, classics and new works.
Choosing plays to satisfy a growing audience is no easy task. Ultimately, Artistic Director Bill Rauch decides on the final list of plays, but the selection process up to that point, which the OSF team affectionately calls "The Boar's Head" after the tavern in Shakespeare's "Henry IV," is fairly democratic.
"Everyone has a chance to share ideas and talk about the plays and the upcoming season," says Douthit. Letters and suggestions from theatergoers are also considered. "We have a long spreadsheet with all the suggestions that we have gotten over the years, and we consult it every year," she says. "I think everyone is an audience member, which includes those of us who work at OSF, and so we don't often talk separately, as if there is an 'us' and a 'them.'"
In addition to existing plays, the festival commissions new plays from playwrights for the season. OSF's American Revolutions: The United States History Cycle is a 10-year series (started in 2008) of 37 original plays that focus on moments of social change in America's past.
"In the commissioned plays, the vast majority of them are playwright-driven," says Douthit. "We want to support playwrights and their work. We tell them what we are looking for and they have the creative freedom."
OSF also actively works to expand its reach and develop new audiences. When selecting plays or playwrights, the festival does consider how those plays will help attract certain demographics, such as young people and families, while also appealing to more mature visitors. For example, "A Wrinkle in Time" and "The Cocoanuts" are family- and youth-friendly offerings this season.
Although budget is a concern, Douthit says it is not one of the first things the group discusses.
"Generally, we keep the logistics out of the room in the beginning. We encourage conversations about the merit of plays, what passion do we have for telling particular stories. At some point, however, we do need to crunch some numbers, and royalties are one kind of number," she says.
Royalties can play a role in whether a big musical is offered during the season. Douthit says royalties for the music and musicians can be double or triple what they are for a non-musical show, on top of the expense of supporting a large cast.
"We pay attention to a lot, from how we roll out the Shakespeare plays, to our personal passions to our audience demands," says Douthit. "We sometimes talk about seasons like food buffets — the cream puff play along with the meat-and-potatoes one."
Overall, when the 65 members of the festival join Bill Rauch to discuss the future season, it's akin to a very thoughtful, all-inclusive planning session for the best dinner party they can imagine.
Angela Decker is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.